​OTT “As Good As TV” Says Telestream

Telestream is promoting its live streaming production software Wirecast, having recently signed Lightcast.com, TiltedGlobe, StreamShark/MetaCDN, and Webcast-TV. More than 25 Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) and streaming platforms already use Wirecast, including Facebook LIVE, YouTube, Twitch and USTREAM. The Broadcast Bridge quizzed Telestream about Wirecast and its encoder Lightspeed Live Stream in the context of the trend toward OTT delivery of sports. Telestream’s chief technology officer Shawn Carnahan responds.

Broadcast Bridge:  In your opinion do OTT services deliver as good as broadcast quality live streams of premium sports events?

Shawn Carnahan:  It can be equivalent – in all honesty I think OTT can be better in some cases – for example, OTT can do 4K now. The big question is what device is the viewer using and is their prime concern quality or convenience?

At Telestream, we can demonstrate that OTT can be as good a viewing experience as the main broadcast transmission. OTT can be the equivalent in quality to broadcast, but the question will be, “do you care?”

OTT may not ever be able to achieve the very low latency of broadcast from a technical perspective. In broadcast, each viewer has the exact same bandwidth and very low latency. Not sure OTT could ever achieve that same level, but can get very close. And with the enhanced experiences that are possible with OTT, it may become a moot point. People will watch where they are with what they can get.

Broadcast Bridge:  Have video buffering and latency been solved to the extent that an OTT delivered feed is indistinguishable from broadcast?

Shawn Carnahan:  The transition to HTTP based streaming has enabled OTT delivery but inherently introduces latency. Tweets from my friends may be talking about something I haven't seen yet, due to latency on my OTT feed to my device. However, it can be down as low as under 30 seconds - possibly under 15 seconds. Not that one would never know about the introduction of latency unless there is a “back channel” such as Twitter also providing information about a live sporting event.

The quality of an OTT experience including latency is totally dependent on the bandwidth to the end user. With broadcast being direct, there is very little left to chance with respect to the viewing experience.

At NAB, we introduced Lightspeed Live Stream and through this key new product introduction we have brought broadcasts and OTT together in the live space. Lightspeed Live Stream is for providing fully produced, high value, premium content OTT to end users watching on their device of choice.

Telestream provide infrastructure for the delivery of very high end premium OTT content, and it cannot fail. We are able to control the content’s quality and ensure that it is reliably delivered. We’re able to replace commercials, and thereby monetize the content through new commercial revenue streams.

But in the sports market it’s not just about the big events. Telestream provide full production capabilities for sporting events that are not premium, major sports. Wirecast offers production capability and streaming for a broad diversity of sporting (and other types of) events, leveraging Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other streaming platforms to create compelling streamed data.

If we look at college and high school sports, The Cube is one of the platforms used for high school sports streaming where content is produced and encoded by Wirecast and sent to The Cube. If you want to monetize your content then Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are not really options - you need to build your own brand on an independent platform (such as The Cube).

The Telestream toolkit contains a number of means of creating compelling content:

    1. Wirecast for camera-based production
    2. Gameshow for gaming production
    3. Wirecast Go for newsy, mobile streaming to YouTube and OTT

Live streaming on social platforms will be great for building brand and audience even if other platforms are used for the main revenue streams.

Broadcast Bridge:  What are the key technical components required to deliver the best quality live streamed sport?

Shawn Carnahan:  First and foremost I think it comes down to the efficiency of the codecs. Next it is all about the bandwidth available between production and the distribution platform and available between distribution and the end user. OTT “quality” inherently depends on the Internet – at least on the networks that are used to get the content to the end user. These could be mobile broadband networks where performance is stellar in some places and not so good in others. Yet, live streaming to mobile devices continues to grow.

Traditionally, we have to encode data once to send it up, and a second time to send it back down. The better the codec (H.264), the easier it is and this brings in factors around computing power. Typically, we encode a single high quality version which is sent to the platform. The platform transcodes that stream to create the versions that are delivered to the user via the CDN.

Our new Lightspeed Live has a ton of compute power in order to provide very high quality encoding. Lightspeed Live means the content is encoded once - the very high quality production output is encoded once and not again by the CDN - it's encoded by Lightspeed Live and sent to OTT directly by the broadcaster (even if it uses the same networks as the CDN would use).

For premium content, broadcasters can use Lightspeed Live Stream to encode all the versions from the original broadcast source and deliver those directly via a CDN, controlling the quality of the user experience.

To summarize, key technical components are really two:

  1. High quality encoding
  2. The amount of bandwidth available between production and distribution plus the amount available between distribution and the end user

Broadcast Bridge:  How will Twitter fare do you think when it begins live streams of 10 NFL matches next season?

Shawn Carnahan:  Twitter is basically trying to turn a second screen experience into a first screen experience. Instead of watching TV and tweeting about it, it will all be on Twitter. It remains to be seen how many people will turn to Twitter to “watch TV.” It’s an experiment. Here the issue is the trade off of image quality for an enhanced user experience. Twitter is banking on the enhanced social experience – it’s not a second screen experience. Twitter is betting that the enhanced social experience of watching NFL football on their platform will, for some, outweigh the benefits of a traditional TV viewing experience. Twitter is not aiming to be just a second screen; they are changing the viewing experience. For some this may be worth it. Time will tell.

Broadcast Bridge:  How does Facebook Live live streaming solutions contrast?

Shawn Carnahan:  Telestream Wirecast supports streaming to Facebook Live. All Facebook Live video is 720p - that sets the baseline for the experience. But social interaction, as well as community, is an inherent element of a Facebook Live broadcast not found in the traditional viewing experience of someone watching TV on the couch in their living room.

It's more a question of syndication – I don't need Twitter or Facebook to find out that my favourite team is playing tonight. This becomes more important for those creating content and trying to build an audience, which is more toward the Wirecast end of the spectrum where they use sites dedicated to streaming (like Ustream). The challenge is to build an audience around my content - building personal brands and channels.

YouTube is headed that way as well with a site dedicated to live video. But Facebook has the world's largest dedicated audience with people (your friends) already on there.

Is the local high school game on tonight? Division 2 and 3 universities are already streaming their sports content. It's almost as if the video aspect of it doesn't matter - it's where do I find the stream of what I want to watch? And it's not on broadcast. How does the audience find me? The NFL is a special case - you don't need social media to find the NFL.

Broadcast Bridge:  How might OTT live streamed sport be able to enhance/lift the fan experience above that of broadcast TV?

Shawn Carnahan:  For live events one of the immediate opportunities is to stream additional content (such as alternate camera angles, secondary audio, etc) in addition to the broadcast feed (which is fully supported by Lightspeed Live Stream). Eventually, there will be an opportunity to stream additional content that is intended for a VR environment (which we are investigating internally within Telestream).

You don't need social networks to find major sporting events. Organisations can use Facebook and Twitter to advertise their branded live streaming channel including the schedule of upcoming games and the fact that the channel exists - Facebook and Twitter do not get that ad revenue or visibility - the branded channel does. But they can use Facebook and Twitter to get people to tune in to their channel.

Wirecast, with its full production, will connect to Facebook, YouTube Live and other dedicated streaming sites, while Lightspeed Live Stream is for OTT streaming of premium content.

An interesting case is to imagine a crowd-sourced production where a central location could be getting feeds from mobile users…multi-camera production sourced from the crowd - perfect for sports ("tail gate" channel, for example).

At Telestream, our strategy is to provide production and infrastructure along with the services to make it all work.

    1. Production and live encoding with Wirecast for the purpose of creating compelling content. And GameShow is meant for compelling gaming production.
    2. Infrastructure with Lightspeed Live Stream (send the broadcast feed to OTT) for very high value content that needs to be branded and monetized. Organisations will probably want to "record" it - capture in ProRes and edit it (not just a recording of the OTT feed). And finally, please note when you stop streaming with Wirecast, it becomes VOD.
    3. And then services that connect the two together.
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